With apologies to the Proclaimers, who sang “I would walk 500 miles” in their hit song “I’m Gonna Be,” Elliot London and Ronnie Kroell are doubling down for an essential cause. They will be walking nearly 1,000 miles – 921 miles to be exact – from Chicago to New York over 37 days to raise awareness for increased bullying prevention efforts across the country. The walk, to coincide with National Bullying Prevention Month, will begin on Saturday, October 5 from The Bean in Millennium Park in Chicago and end on Sunday, November 10 in New York City.
London and Kroell are co-founders of FRIEND MOVEMENT, which they started in response to the increasing number of suicides being committed as a result of bullying. Although they themselves were subjected to bullying, the two men were inspired to establish the movement in the wake of the suicide of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University student who jumped to his death off the George Washington Bridge in New York three years ago after being severely cyber-bullied by his dormitory roommate.
Clementi’s life, along with the lives of countless others who have been victimized and committed suicide because of bullying, will be celebrated during the walk, with a purple ribbon being placed after each mile to honor their memories. Clementi’s brother James, as well as relatives and friends of other victims of bullying, will join London and Kroell at various times along the month-long trek, including when they symbolically walk across the George Washington Bridge. The walk will include stops in Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.
“Tyler may have been a young gay man, but bullying does not discriminate. It affects people of all races, ages, religions, genders, sexualities, socio-economic backgrounds and more,” said London, a 32-year-old filmmaker (The Wedding Dance) who was born in Melbourne, Australia, grew up in the Chicago suburbs, and now lives in Los Angeles. “And the impact of bullying is profound. It can lead to a plethora of physical and psychological problems that can be life-long, in addition to suicide, which, by the way, is the number one cause of death among school and college students in the U.S.”
London pointed out that every day the media has stories concerning bullying and its horrific and tragic effects, citing examples such as the 12-year-old boy in Connecticut who killed himself a few weeks ago after being bullied in school and the 12-year-old girl in Florida who killed herself just last week, also after continuous school bullying. Just this week, an eight-year-old boy received media attention when he sent a letter to Santa begging for his help in getting kids to stop bullying his sister!
“Silence and inaction are just not an option anymore,” said Kroell, a 30-year-old fashion model and actor (Make Me A Supermodel, Scrooge & Marley) who was born and raised in Chicago and also now lives in Los Angeles. “That’s why we established the FRIEND MOVEMENT – to turn the tables on bullying, by bringing a pro-friend solution to the table. Imagine if we all could be better friends to others around us, not to mention to ourselves. Imagine if we could rise up above fear, and stand up against injustice. If we all do our small part, then our communities, schools, homes and offices can become safer places.”
FRIEND MOVEMENT is partnering with The Tyler Clementi Foundation, GLSEN and GLAAD for the walk and to take a stand against bullying. London and Kroell said that they hope that their combined efforts will be “a call to action to break down walls of ignorance, hate and fear, inspire people to prevent bullying, and encourage and promote friendship.”
“The Tyler Clementi Foundation is thrilled to be joining forces with the Friend Movement to make an impact that reaches across the U.S.,” said James Clementi. “As we join up with Ronnie and Elliot for a portion of their heroic walk across the country, we are excited to help create a community of Upstanders. By becoming Upstanders, we can make a culture shift that makes everyone, including LGBT youth, safe. This movement, done in honor of Tyler, will offer hope and healing.”
“Every student deserves to thrive in a school environment where success is not overshadowed by anti-LGBT name-calling or harassment,” said GLSEN Executive Director Dr. Eliza Byard. “All of us have a responsibility to ensure schools are safe havens for learning, aspiration and growth. GLSEN is proud to partner with the Friend Movement to make sure this becomes a reality for every child in our nation’s schools.”
“No one should be put down simply because of who they are – especially America’s youth,” said GLAAD spokesperson Wilson Cruz. “As the LGBT community draws closer to full legal equality in this country, it’s important we remember there’s still a great deal of work to be done, particularly with ensuring the safety and well-being of LGBT young people while at school. GLAAD is proud to join FRIEND MOVEMENT in helping to take a stand against anti-LGBT bullying.”
Individuals can join FRIEND MOVEMENT by visiting its indiegogo campaign. For a $20 donation, participants will receive a specially made FRIEND MOVEMENT watch, as well as a purple ribbon that can be sent back, in a postage-paid envelope provided by the movement, to The Tyler Clementi Foundation with a personalized dedication to a friend or family member. Each ribbon will be placed on the site of the closing ceremony of the walk in New York City.